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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

May 26, 2021

The situation in North Africa remains tense. A new military coup took place in Mali this week, raising concerns worldwide. France is the country most concerned about the crisis in Mali because, in addition to historical ties, it has always been responsible for managing security in that African region - and now it is increasingly losing control over the various belligerent groups that operate there. More than that, it seems that the Mali military's very intention is to ban any sign of French influence in the country.

Just a few months after the military takeover that overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, a new coup took place in Mali on Monday. Now, interim president Bah Ndaw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and Defense Minister Souleymane Doucoure have been arrested by the military and taken to the Kati base – the same military center in which Keïta was imprisoned last year. No details were given by the military about what would happen to the arrested politicians, but the armed forces' high command reported that the national transition process will continue its normal course, which probably means that a new junta will be appointed to govern the country accordingly with the Army’s interests.

Apparently, the military maneuver may have been retaliation against the interim government for measures taken against the armed forces recently. The president's arrest came just hours after two members of the Armed Forces lost their positions in a government rearrangement. With the reform, the president's team took control of the Ministry of Defense, banning two military agents who commanded the office - which certainly did not please the army and prompted an immediate response.

The provisional government's anti-military measures were not by chance. Ndaw and Ouane tried to "improve" the Malian image on the international scenario. The military coup has been severely criticized, as well as the armed forces' constant attempt to gain full control over the country's political management. By removing military personnel from strategic sectors, the provisional government tried to transmit a more "democratic" image to world powers and international organizations - but, in fact, it is still the military who really control the African country.

International rejection of the military is visible with reactions to the newest coup. The UN Mission in Mali used his Twitter profile to call for the immediate liberation of Ndaw and Ouané, warning that those who detain them will have to be legally punished for their actions. In a similar message, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was deeply concerned about the arrest of the civilian leaders responsible for the political transition in Mali. European Council President Charles Michel, on the other hand, told the media that what happened is "very serious" and that he is ready to consider the necessary measures. However, the worst reaction was in Paris. Macron strongly condemned the coup and said he is ready to take any necessary action in the next few hours. In the same vein, Jean-Yves Le Drian stated: "France condemns with the greatest firmness the violent act that occurred in Mali yesterday (...) We demand the liberation of President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane. Their safety must be guaranteed, as must the immediate resumption of the agreed transition process".

The reason for the French concern is simple. France has historical ties to Mali, which have never been completely broken, despite the end of colonialism. Paris has always been responsible for ensuring the security of the entire Sahel region and in recent times this territory has been becoming the target of several terrorist groups formed by Islamist militias affiliated with Al Qaeda. In 2013, Paris organized the so-called Operation Serval, which succeeded in preventing terrorists from taking over the largest cities in Mali.

However, the continuation of the French military presence in the country was disastrous. With the end of Operation Serval, which aimed to restore urban centers, Operation Barkhane began, which objective was to eliminate the remnants of rebels and keep them away from the cities through a strategy of continuous occupation. The problem is that Paris was not strong enough to maintain the continued occupation in Mali, mainly due to its territorial dimensions - twice the size of France. And that allowed terrorism to advance more and more, with the French military passive in the face of a problem that they could not solve.

It was then that the Malian military rebelled against the civilian government - which was in favor of the French occupation - and started the process of political transition. The military, at first, preferred not to remain in power, indicating a provisional civilian government, but this government showed traces of collusion with France and tried to remove the military from the Ministry of Defense. This ministry is the major strategic point that the military want to control, since the real aim of the coup is to create a new national strategy for the defense and fight against terrorism, breaking with the failed Paris strategy. Because it tried to undermine the military's plans, the provisional government was overturned.

France no longer has any control over what happens in Mali; its strategy failed, and this generated not only an increase in terrorism, but a profound anti-French orientation in the Malian armed forces. Once again, Mali seems to be a "French Vietnam", considering that a military government in the country could represent the end of French incursions in North Africa.

By Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.


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